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Saturday, May 18, 2024


The story that dominated CES this year was the standards war around high-definition DVD. This is no longer a phony war: both Blu-ray and HD DVD players will arrive in less than six months. What’s clear from talking to people at the show is that this format war is bad for everyone, most of all the consumer. Toshiba’s HD DVD player will cost $499 (£280), a Blu-ray machine even more, so it will be only the hardcore AV fan or the super-rich that will buy both. And with movie studios supporting different formats, that means that we’ll all be missing out on some of our favourite movies if we choose one over the other.

If we were judging the winning format on the quality of its press conference, then Blu-ray would easily win, with Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld and R&B singer John Legend jumping out to back the format in a convincing show. The Blu-ray format is supported by the AV world’s biggest names — Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Samsung all have players due for release. It also has the backing of more major movie studios than HD DVD, and with a higher disc capacity of 50GB, these content providers should have enough space for super-high quality movies and interactive extras.

Perhaps the biggest feather in Blu-ray’s cap is the support from PlayStation 3. Even though it’s a very poor quality player, the PlayStation 2 was a major catalyst for DVD movie sales, and the same could easily happen for Blu-ray. There’s no doubt that the PS3 will be the most popular way of watching Blu-ray movies, and even though there’s been no price announcement at CES, we’ve heard strong rumours of a $499 price point.

While HD DVD has more limited hardware and software support, it’s still putting up a very strong fight. It will be the first to launch (as soon as April), and it’s based on existing technology, so the players will be cheaper to buy. This also makes the format more attractive for content providers, because they can make HD DVD discs more cheaply than they can Blu-ray. For this reason, we may see smaller movie studios adopting HD DVD, and the lower production costs may encourage studios to release movies that may not sell in high numbers.

There was also a big boost to HD DVD thanks to Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox 360 add-on HD DVD drive, which should offer the cheapest upgrade option for console owners. However, with little support from other mainstream AV manufacturers, Toshiba’s HD DVD format looks like it needs a few more friends to match up to the party that’s being held over at Blu-ray’s house.

Crave attended a CNET 2006 panel debate in which around 200 people from the industry voted on which format they thought would win. Blu-ray overwhelmed HD DVD, and it’s certainly difficult to argue with the manufacturers and movie studios that are supporting the format. While we agree that Blu-ray will eventually win, the Crave monkeys are such gadget addicts that we’ll probably end up buying an HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 and a PS3 for Blu-ray playback. Roll on the high-definition revolution! 

Visit our CES 2006 Special Report for more coverage, including a video report on the Pioneer PDP HD1 Blu-ray disc player. -GC

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